My initial aim when sitting down to write this article was to comment upon the Expert Day organised by the GRIP core group on Wednesday 22nd June 2011. The aim of this day was to collate information regarding job-related stress and to support decisions regarding future project activities, as well as to facilitate networking. Besides the core GRIP members, experts from a variety of disciplines were invited to participate including Stress Coaches, Arbodiensts and Neuropsychology and all were asked to consider the following topic:

How to successfully approach job related stress?

Having though had the time to mull things over and speak with a few additional experts in the following weeks, I must admit I feel compelled to explain how my thinking appears to have drifted since this day, from an individual to a group approach.

While the discussion that day brought up many interesting avenues for further investigation, such as using cueing (making a fist with your hand for example) as a method to relieve stress, the need for some sort of device or interface to display the short and long term effects of the data collated by stress sensors, or, creating interactive applications with an intrinsic effect such as those felt by breathing exercises and games, one point that everyone seemed to agree upon was the importance of social support. No matter what design solutions or gadgets (which it seemed the experts were looking for) we might come up with, there is ultimately no substitute for human contact. Its worth bearing in mind that, up to this point, I was still of the mindset that, given that the causes and effects of stress are unique to every individual, we must take a bespoke approach when designing solutions for the topic. However, this was about to change thanks to a meeting with Maurice de Valk from Intermedic BV.

Maurice was unfortunately unable to make it to the Expert Day, and it would have been interesting to see how his thoughts might have influenced the group discussion, however, he was still keen to meet with us so we managed to schedule a meeting in the weeks following the Expert Day. Maurice's interest lies in humanising the work place. As he puts it, stress is not about workload, it is about feedback which is related to belief systems." Interestingly, and this is what has stuck with me, Maurice believes that, "burnout only happens in sick organisations, not to people who are sick." Burnout is not the problem, it is the symptom. In essence, the environment (both spatially and socially) induces stress. Maurice prefers to think of stress as negative energy. By using the [positive] energy moving around and between people we can lift our energy levels and move forward to create a supportive environment conducive to work.

Essentially what Maurice is speaking of is an empathetic approach, that is, the importance of social interaction in tackling job-related stress. Groups hold the key to solving their own problems. As each group is different it is, therefore, important to look at health of the organisation and to discuss their coping style (active / passive). A team is most successful when people listen to and care about each other, therefore, the focus should not be on stress itself, rather energy management. Our job then as designers is essentially to help facilitate this dialogue and discussion, to help people help themselves. This switch to a group focus seems to fit much more neatly with our aim of creating a flexible product service system. I can already imagine (see attached) how we might create a basic service model to help facilitate the creation of a system that ultimately polices itself. This service might start from data, as suggested on the Expert Day, as a catalyst for group discussion and design solutions. It may even lead to the prototyping and design of tools that could be utilised by other organisations, thus companies have the opportunity to share their experiences and solutions with others widening the community. One thing is for sure – it'll be exciting to see, as a group, where this new energy takes us.


Published: 31-Aug-2011 10:15


Projects, Grip
  • Expert Day: Individual or Group?


  • Expert Day: Individual or Group?


  • Expert Day: Individual or Group?